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At least two dead in northwestern China blasts: state media - August 11, 2008

 

At least two dead in northwestern China blasts: state media

BEIJING (AFP) — At least two people died early Sunday in a series of explosions in the northwestern Chinese region of Xinjiang, state media said, in an attack that eyewitnesses said was followed by gunfire.

The report did not say who was responsible for the blasts which came little more than a day after the start of the Olympics in Beijing.

Uighur separatists in Xinjiang have in video statements threatened to attack the sporting event and Chinese authorities have also warned that "terrorists" from home and abroad pose a massive threat to the Games.

The blasts on Sunday occurred between 3:20 am (1920 GMT) and 4:00 am (2000 GMT) in Kuqa, a large town in southern Xinjiang, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Police have cordoned off the area where the explosions occurred, witnesses said and the military has moved in to intervene, according to the report which said the incident was followed by flashes of fire and sporadic gunshots.

Kuqa has a population of about 400,000 and is located about 740 kilometres (460 miles) from Urumqi, the regional capital of Muslim-majority Xinjiang, where 16 policemen were killed in a suspected terrorist attack on August 4.

In what was one of the deadliest attacks in China in years, a lorry targeted 70 police officers jogging near their barracks in the region's Kashgar city, raising security fears just four days before the start of the Olympics.

Chinese authorities Friday announced that they had stepped up controls on religious figures and potential "trouble-makers" in Kashgar, to guard against such incidents.

"To ensure stability, (authorities) have strengthened controls on non-residents to root out trouble, and stepped up controls on key people, religious figures and trouble-making petitioners to stay abreast of things," said an announcement on the city government's website at the time.

It gave no further details and did not specify what "key people" meant.

China blamed the deadly August 4 incident, for which two men have been detained, on Islamic separatists.

Xinjiang, a vast area that borders Central Asia, has about 8.3 million ethnic Uighurs, many of whom express anger at what they say has been decades of repressive Communist Chinese rule.

Two short-lived East Turkestan republics emerged in Xinjiang in the 1930s and 1940s, when Chinese central government control was weakened by civil war and Japanese invasion.

China has blamed Uighur militants of the banned East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) for plotting attacks on the Beijing Olympics and has implemented suffocating security to squash any threat.

But China's own statements on the subject have made it difficult to determine the extent of the threat posed, observers say.

Critics say authorities in Beijing exaggerate the terror threat to justify the repression of unhappy minorities such as the Uighurs, who have chafed under decades of Chinese rule.

http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5gHk0jGP4kVm5FF_UHNsnuLvULPRw

 


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Deadly attack hits China's Xinjiang province


Two men rammed a dump truck yesterday into a group of jogging policemen and tossed explosives, killing 16 officers, state media said, in an attack in restive western China that added to already high tensions days before the Beijing Olympics.

  The attack was among the deadliest and most brazen in years in Xinjiang province, site of a sporadically violent rebellion by local Muslims against Chinese rule for what they call an independent East Turkistan in Xinjiang. Though it happened on the far side of China, the attack came as security forces were on alert for protests or any disruptions during the Olympics, which open Friday.

  Xinjiang, in the northwest of the country, is home to a number of different ethnic groups, many of them Turkic, the largest of which are the Uighurs. Uighur separatists have waged a low-level campaign against Chinese rule for decades. Occasionally violent attacks in the 1990s brought an intense response from Beijing, which has stationed crack paramilitary units in the area and clamped down on unregistered mosques and religious schools that officials said were inciting militant action. Uighurs have complained that the suppression has aggravated tensions in Xinjiang, making Uighurs feel even more threatened by an influx of Chinese and driving some to flee to Pakistan and other areas where they then have readier access to extremist ideologies.

Police arrest attackers:

  In the Xinjiang attack, the two men drove the truck into police belonging to the paramilitary border patrol as they passed a hotel during a regular 8 a.m. jog in the city of Kashgar, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

  After the truck hit an electrical pole, the pair jumped out, ignited homemade explosives and "also hacked the policemen with knives," Xinhua said. An earlier Xinhua report said the explosives were tossed at a barracks, but later the agency revised the account, saying their quarters were 200 yards (meters) away. Other accounts also said the men used a truck bomb.

  Fourteen died on the spot and two others en route to a hospital, while at least 16 others were wounded, Xinhua said. Police arrested the two attackers, one of whom was injured in the leg, it said.

  Chinese security forces have been on edge for months, citing a number of foiled plots by Muslim separatists and a series of bombings around China in the run-up to the Olympics, which open Friday. Last week, a senior military commander said radical Muslims who are fighting for what they call an independent East Turkistan in Xinjiang posed the single greatest threat to the games.

  A Chinese counterterrorism expert, Li Wei of the China Institute for Contemporary International Relations in Beijing, said the attack was likely the work of local sympathizers, rather than trained terrorists who crossed the border into China.

  Xinhua said Xinjiang's police department earlier received intelligence reports about possible terrorist attacks between Aug. 1 and 8 by the East Turkistan Islamic Movement. The movement is the name of a group that China and the U.S. say is a terrorist organization, but Chinese authorities often use it for a broad number of violent separatist groups.

  One militant group, the Turkistan Islamic Party, pledged in a video on the Internet last month to "target the most critical points related to the Olympics." The group is believed to be based across the border in Pakistan, with some of its core members having received training from al-Qaida and the Pakistani Taliban, according to terrorism experts.Terrorism analysts and Chinese authorities, however, have said that with more than 100,000 soldiers and police guarding Beijing and other Olympic co-host cities, terrorists were more likely to attack less-protected areas.

 
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